Tracking PDF Downloads as Conversion Goals with Google Analytics

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Lukas Pleva has written 11 post in this blog.


When it comes to online analytics and optimization, the importance of tracking goal conversions cannot be overstated. Knowing how many unique visitor your website’s received in the past month and how many of those visitors came from Google is all well and good, but unless your business revenue depends solely on traffic generation, monitoring basic data usage only gets you so far.

As we’ve argued before (and as we remind our clients all the time), traffic growth isn’t much of an accomplishment if none of the new visitors convert, i.e. take some action that’s directly tied to your business objective. What constitutes a “conversion” is purely up to you, the website owner. For B2B-focused businesses, a visitor might be said to have converted if he/she fills out a quote request form. For a restaurant, a conversion might be defined as the online visitor signing up to receive notifications about future offers and discounts.

Regardless of how you define conversion goals for your website, these goals must be tied in some way to your business. If you run an ecommerce website, the most common conversion measure is an actual purchase (allowing you to answer questions like what percentage of people who come from to your website from Facebook vs. Google ultimately decide to buy one of your products). That said, even if your website doesn’t have built-in e-commerce features, it’s critical to set up at least a few conversion goals.

A question that comes up all the time is how to set up conversion goal monitoring for PDF/MP3/Word/Excel files using Google Analytics. To take a concrete example: a local bagel bakery has a link to a PDF menu posted on its website, and wants to monitor what percentage of the site visitors actually download the file (reasoning that taking the time to download a PDF menu implies at least some level of interest in eventually visiting the physical store). It then wants to use this information to directly compare the effectiveness of its various online marketing campaigns, e.g. Google AdWords vs. Facebook Ads vs. banner ads on local websites. Effectiveness in this case being defined as the percentage of visitors from each source who not only visit the website, but who go on to download the PDF menu.

Tracking PDF downloads as conversion goals using Google Analytics actually isn’t as easy as one would expect, at least not until recently, thanks to Google’s revamped Analytics platform. To that end, we still see a lot of confusion on the Internet on how to actually set up this type of tracking, so we decided to put together a quick walk-through. That said, note that while our example uses a PDF file, this process is applicable to virtually any file format, e.g. an MP3 file, Microsoft Word document, etc.

Tracking PDF Downloads as Conversion Goals with Google Analytics

Tag your link – to take a real example, here’s the HTML-formatted link to the PDF menu file from our local bakery:

<a href=”https://www.stpetebagelco.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/StPeteMenu.pdf” target=”_blank” />Download menu</a>

This link is found on the menu page of the company website. If we want to track the percentage of our visitors who actually click this link, we need to modify it as follows (underlined part is what we added)

<a onclick=”javascript:_gaq.push([‘_trackEvent’,’download‘,’menu‘,’st pete menu‘]); void(0);” href=”https://www.stpetebagelco.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/StPeteMenu.pdf” target=”_blank” />Download menu</a>

We won’t go into exactly how and why this works, as it can get a little technical. Rather, we’ll focus on the parts that you need to modify for your own purposes, which are ‘download’, ‘menu’, and ‘st pete menu’. Essentially, these labels correspond to category, action, and label, respectively. This set of descriptors is how Google understands events, i.e. a certain action that a visitor performs while on your website.

At the top is category, which in this case corresponds to a “download”, i.e. the user downloads some file. Then comes the “action”, which aims to provide more details about the category. In this case, we defined “action” as “menu”, since the user is downloading some type of menu. If we allowed visitors to download PDF coupons as well, “coupons” might be a different action, but note that it would still fall under the category of download. Finally, we defined our label “st pete menu”, since the link points to the PDF menu for a location in St. Petersburg. If we wanted to track downloads of menus for a different location (e.g. Largo), we’d define the label as “largo”. Hopefully this make sense, but if not, refer to this handy image of the category-action-label hierarchy from Google. For now, don’t worry about the “value” descriptor.

Note that the only required descriptors are category and action, i.e. you don’t have to specify a label or a value. If we only had one menu, we could format our tagged link as follows:

<a onclick=”javascript:_gaq.push([‘_trackEvent’,’download‘,’menu‘]); void(0);”href=”https://www.stpetebagelco.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/StPeteMenu.pdf” target=”_blank” />Download menu</a>

Configuring your Analytics – now that you have a tagged link, it’s time to set up the actual conversion tracking. Note that for this post, we’re assuming that you’re working with the new version of Analytics.

–> Access the appropriate Analytics profile, and click the gear icon in the upper right corner.

–> Select the “goals” tab, and under Goals (set 1), click the +Goal link. Note that this assumes that you haven’t set up previous goals. If you have, create the new goal in any free Goal set

–> Enter a descriptive name for the goal into the Goal Name text box (e.g. St. Pete Menu Download). Note that this is only for your internal reference

–> Under Goal Type, select Event

–> For the Goal Details, enter the following: (1) under Category, select “that matches” from the dropdown and enter the category that you specified in your tagged link. In our case, we’d enter “download” (without the quotation marks) (2) under action, select “that matches” and enter the action that you specified in your tagged link. In our case, we’d enter “menu” (3) under label, select “that matches” and enter the label that you specified in your tagged link. In our case, we’d enter “st pete menu”. If you didn’t specify the label/value descriptors in your tagged link, you don’t have to specify them here, i.e. we left the Value field empty.

Setting up Goal Event Tracking in Google Analytics is Relatively Quick and Painless

–> Leave all of the other settings alone and click the Save button at the bottom.

Congratulations, you just configured conversion goal tracking for your downloadable file(s)! To check that everything works, go ahead and download your tagged file. Then wait a day or so and check your Analytics (Conversions>Goals) to make sure that Google is registering your downloads. If you run into any trouble, feel free to let us know or ask in the comments below.

Do you track conversions on your website? What sort of goals have you set up? We’d love to hear about your experiences with conversion tracking!

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